Geotraces 2015: Diverse crew supports Arctic mission

This blog is part of a series of posts following Coast Guard Cutter Healy on their journey through the Arctic to the North Pole in support of Geotraces 2015. Stay tuned to learn more about the mission, the cutter and the crew!

Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall

Coast Guard Cutter Healy cruises through the Arctic Ocean Aug. 19, 2015, in support of the Geotraces mission. Geotraces is Healy's second science mission of the summer, and is an international effort to study the distribution of trace elements in the world's oceans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

Coast Guard Cutter Healy cruises through the Arctic Ocean Aug. 19, 2015, in support of the Geotraces mission. Geotraces is Healy’s second science mission of the summer, and is an international effort to study the distribution of trace elements in the world’s oceans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

When traditionally thinking of ships at sea, one might picture the age-old scene of a predominately-male crew. Coast Guard Cutter Healy has turned that notion on its head.

With one of the most gender-diverse crews in the Coast Guard, Healy is a showcase of strong, inspiring and high-performing women. At over twice the percentage of women in the Coast Guard as a whole, the women aboard Healy comprise 26 percent of the crew, and span the rank structure from top to bottom.

On any given day aboard Healy, you’ll find Petty Officer 2nd Class Julia Kinney, a boatswain’s mate, giving orders on the fantail as complex scientific instruments are lowered into the sea to collect data, or driving one of Healy’s small boats in choppy Arctic waters to deliver scientists to their testing sites.

Kinney began her Coast Guard career with a bang about 10 years ago when she reported to Coast Guard Station New Orleans after basic training, just a couple of months before Hurricane Katrina made landfall.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Julia Kinney, a boatswain's mate on Coast Guard Cutter Healy, pauses for a portrait, Aug. 14, 2015, while underway in the Bering Sea in support of the Geotraces mission. Geotraces is Healy's second science mission of the summer, and is an international effort to study the distribution of trace elements in the world's oceans, with a focus on the Arctic Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Julia Kinney, a boatswain’s mate on Coast Guard Cutter Healy, pauses for a portrait, Aug. 14, 2015, while underway in the Bering Sea in support of the Geotraces mission. Geotraces is Healy’s second science mission of the summer, and is an international effort to study the distribution of trace elements in the world’s oceans, with a focus on the Arctic Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

During Katrina, Kinney served on boat crews, transferring stranded civilians to safer ground. This was her introduction to the Coast Guard.

Still unsure at the time which rate to pursue, Kinney recalled a humorous moment at the station when she was working while balancing a deck brush, a hose, and a coffee mug. Her executive petty officer, a chief petty officer and boatswain’s mate, came upon this scene and yelled “Stop! Look at yourself. That has boatswain’s mate written all over it!”

And the rest was history.

Boats were nothing new to Kinney, whose family owned a marina when she was growing up in western New York. Now, with a family of her own, she has found it possible to enjoy family life without having to give up the work she loves.

“It is possible to do both career and family,” said Kinney. “It’s tough. It’s not easy, but you can do both. It’s all about finding what fits your life.”

Kinney came to Healy with a wealth of small-boat experience, but little cutter knowledge.

“Here it’s a little bit of the small boat stuff, but the rest of it is deck work – knowing how to paint, how to operate the cranes, knowing how to be up on the bridge and navigate,” said Kinney. “It’s a lot different.”

Kinney quickly rose to the challenge and in addition to mastering her deck work, she serves as the cutter’s training petty officer and Leadership Diversity Advisory Council chairman. She plans to continue chasing down goals after her tour with Healy is complete.

“After Healy, I’d like to get into the aids-to-navigation world,” said Kinney. “I think that would keep me diverse, knowing my search-and-rescue and law enforcement, learning to drive a cutter and be on a cutter; then I can go to ATON and hopefully that will set me up for XPO, officer-in-charge, and later on down the road, warrant officer.”

While Kinney is serving as coxswain on a small boat off Healy’s beam, down inside the ship’s engineering spaces, you’ll find Ens. Laurin Smith, the cutter’s Damage Control Assistant. Smith is the repair division officer, overseeing damage control training for the entire crew, and also serves as Healy’s public affairs officer and satellite exchange officer.

Ens. Laurin Smith demonstrates and observes pipe-patching techniques during damage control training Aug. 17, 2015, aboard Coast Guard Cutter Healy, while underway in the Arctic Ocean in support of Geotraces. Geotraces is Healy's second science expedition of the summer, and is an international effort to study the health of the world's oceans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

Ens. Laurin Smith demonstrates and observes pipe-patching techniques during damage control training Aug. 17, 2015, aboard Coast Guard Cutter Healy, while underway in the Arctic Ocean in support of Geotraces. Geotraces is Healy’s second science expedition of the summer, and is an international effort to study the health of the world’s oceans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

“I fell in love with being on the water at a very young age,” said Smith. “I knew I wanted to work on boats after college.”

Smith studied naval architecture and marine engineering at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. Serving aboard Healy was Smith’s first choice upon graduation.

“It is one of a kind,” said Smith. “No one else in the Coast Guard does what we do. Every day that I show up to work is a new experience, and now we’re on the adventure of a lifetime.”

Smith is a qualified technician of the watch, engineer of the watch, and didn’t simply complete the Damage Control Assistant School with the Navy, but graduated first in her class and received the Adm. Schonland Award for Excellence in Damage Control. While engineering is her passion, Smith is intrigued by all facets of shipboard life.

“A cutter at sea is its own city,” said Smith. “We’re our own fire department and maintenance crew, our own news outlet, our own police force, even. To see everyone come together teaches you a lot of teamwork and a lot of balance.”

Healy is currently underway for 65 days in support of Geotraces, an international scientific effort to study the health of the world’s oceans. Their course will lead them to the furthest reaches of the Arctic Ocean, possibly to the North Pole.

“We reach a point of no return where there’s no more calling in for parts to be air-dropped, no opportunities to pull into port for emergencies,” said Smith. “Proficiency is the reason we can be underway for so long. Everyone is on their A-game.”

To anyone, particularly young women who may be considering serving in the Coast Guard, Smith has some advice.

“Go for it,” said Smith. “Jump into the deep end. Even if it’s not what you want to do forever, you’ll learn more about yourself serving than you will in any other job. And in the Coast Guard, you aren’t limited by your gender, so you can dream as big as the sky.”

On her way to the bridge after making her rounds, Smith passes Healy’s Sick Bay, staffed by Chief Petty Officer Erin Hunter, an independent-duty health services technician.

Chief Petty Officer Erin Hunter, an independent-duty health services technician aboard Coast Guard Cutter Healy, has her portrait taken in the cutter's sick bay Aug. 19, 2015, while underway in support of the Geotraces mission. Geotraces is Healy's second science mission of the summer, and is an international effort to study the distribution of trace elements in the world's oceans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

Chief Petty Officer Erin Hunter, an independent-duty health services technician aboard Coast Guard Cutter Healy, has her portrait taken in the cutter’s sick bay Aug. 19, 2015, while underway in support of the Geotraces mission. Geotraces is Healy’s second science mission of the summer, and is an international effort to study the distribution of trace elements in the world’s oceans. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

“This is not a normal sick bay,” said Hunter. “Healy is unique because we have anywhere from 30 to 50 scientists who sail with us and at times we’re away from medevac capabilities, depending on weather and ice conditions.”

Healy’s medical facility is spacious and well-stocked, much like a miniature hospital.

“We have x-ray, advanced cardiac life support capabilities, we can draw labs, we can do emergency dental, and we can treat an array of infections,” said Hunter.

Hunter grew up in San Diego and has always had a love for the ocean.

“I love being underway,” said Hunter. “I love the camaraderie that you gain from working with your shipmates on a daily basis, and being part of a very close family.”

Hunter joined the Coast Guard to find adventure, which didn’t take long. Shortly after graduating from Independent-Duty Health Services Technician School, Hunter deployed to treat victims in Haiti, arriving just six days after the devastating earthquake in 2010.

“It was amazing,” said Hunter, “but intimidating! You’re not trained to be in that kind of combat scenario, and you’re treating people who don’t speak the same language. It was a very rewarding deployment.”

Geotraces, Healy’s current expedition, is a whole different kind of adventure.

“The mission that we’re doing is important for Arctic research,” said Hunter. “I’m here to make sure everyone is healthy and safe, and to keep our guys healthy enough to support their (the scientists’) mission.”

In addition to treating injuries, sickness, and emergencies, Hunter ensures Healy’s environmental health and safety, regularly conducting inspections of the water, galley, habitability, barber shop, and coffee shop, among other spaces.

“Our goal is to get everyone home safe,” said Hunter, “to be a mother, or a father, a brother, a sister. Being away from your family is the hardest part, but at the end it’s rewarding. It’s awesome to come home to them.”

Hunter, Smith, and Kinney are just a few examples of the many noteworthy female crew members aboard Healy who serve as competent technicians, dependable leaders, and sources of inspiration and mentorship to those coming up through the ranks behind them. Healy is a testament that when a talented and diverse crew comes together, nothing, not even 10 feet of solid ice, can stand in their way.

Coast Guard Cutter Healy crew members deploy a small boat to enable scientists to gather seawater samples in the Bering Sea, Aug. 14, 2015, in support of the Geotraces mission. Geotraces is Healy's second science mission of the summer, and is an international effort to study the distribution of trace elements in the world's oceans, with a focus on the Arctic Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

Coast Guard Cutter Healy crew members deploy a small boat to enable scientists to gather seawater samples in the Bering Sea, Aug. 14, 2015, in support of the Geotraces mission. Geotraces is Healy’s second science mission of the summer, and is an international effort to study the distribution of trace elements in the world’s oceans, with a focus on the Arctic Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

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